A minor surprise! Although maybe he was just repaying Trump for the kindness that was showed to him in this complimentary-by-Trump-standards tweet from a few days ago:

Anyway. “That’s not who we are,” says Biden in the clip below about recent chanting at certain other candidates’ campaign rallies. But that is who we are. Certainly it’s who we are on the right, given the “lock her up” refrain at Trump rallies in 2016. The point of this Ukraine thing, it increasingly appears, was to find some material for “lock him up” chanting about Democratic nominee Joe Biden at Trump rallies next year. And let’s be honest: To the extent that Democrats feel shamed by Biden’s admonition, it’s not because they believe the “lock him up” chanting is out of bounds. It’s because they pride themselves on being morally superior to those feral right-wingers and are taken aback at the suggestion that they’re behaving the same way, even in a narrow context.

This is a deft answer, though, and surprisingly crisp considering that … not all of Biden’s answers could be described that way last night. (Ed has a post about that coming up.) There’s a lot going on here in just a minute or so of talk. Implicitly, he’s scolding Bernie and other candidates for weakness in failing to put a stop to the “lock him up” chanting at their rallies. Explicitly, he’s drawing a contrast with Trump by reminding the public that the DOJ isn’t there to serve as the president’s personal attorney. But he’s also signaling that he won’t pardon Trump if his AG decides that probable cause exists to believe Trump has committed crimes, so there’s the consolation prize for any lefties who otherwise disliked this answer.

And he did all of that while underlining his own core campaign theme, a return to normalcy. That’s really all Grandpa Joe is promising Democrats. Sure, he’ll push for a public option on health care if that’s what they want, but his basic pitch is nothing more or less than a third Obama term. He’s a nostalgia candidate, like Trump was. Trump promised voters he’d make America as great again as it once was in some unspecified period of the past — the early 1980s, I guess. Biden’s promise is more specific: He’ll make America as great as it was in 2012. He’s going to put a stop to all of the daily nonsense, the tweets, the chanting, you name it, and get back to business as usual.

That pitch has worked well enough for him that he even has Senate Republicans chattering about working with him if he wins the presidency:

“I think Joe Biden has the ability to work across party lines, absolutely I do,” said Graham, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who was one of the authors of the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate passed in 2013 but that later died in the House.

[Lindsey] Graham said he’s not so sure whether Warren or Sanders would be as effective…

“Think about some of the initiatives Biden has worked with, whether it’s Leader McConnell or just worked on a bipartisan basis. The fact that he has legislative, congressional experience and had to work in a legislative body and then worked with President Obama as one within the administration working with a legislative body does give him a level of experience that’s useful,” [Lisa] Murkowski said.

Biden has hammered that point on the trail — Republicans will work with me — but 2012 is *not* remembered as a golden age of bipartisanship. The opposite, actually. It’s true that Biden was helpful in brokering a few compromises between Obama and McConnell but those were in the context of crises (shutdowns, debt ceiling fears) where compromise simply had to happen. Republicans won’t be working with President Joe on the public option or gun rights or immigration reform or anything else that isn’t must-pass. So in a way, even though Biden’s nostalgia trip is much more specific than Trump’s, it’s also a fantasy. They’re both promising a return to better days that weren’t so great in reality in important ways.

By the way, don’t look now but Biden has been north of 30 percent in the last three national polls published, leads in Nevada and South Carolina, and is very much still in the thick of it in Iowa and New Hampshire. Amid all the hype about Warren’s rise this summer and the Butti-boomlet in the early states right now, there’s still a nonzero (if small) chance that Grandpa Joe runs the table — or at least ends up with the most early-state wins among the top tier. His base is surprisingly resilient and, as we see here, he can still deliver an effective answer on occasion. Don’t count him out.